Colombaia (Dante Lomazzi & Helena Variara)
Colle Val d’Elsa, Siena
Colombaia is an anomaly and gentle iconoclast in the Chianti Colle Sinesi area, one of the eight sub-zones within DOCG Chianti. A while back, prompted by the most recent in a line of scandals that have dogged this rather inglorious appellation – anti-freeze, pigs blood, Argentinian Malbec, you name it – Dante Lomazzi and Helena Variari cut loose. Today, free from any tainted association, they make a red and a white Toscana IGP – under the most broad of Tuscan appellations, which crucially leaves them free to choose their own grapes. For Dante and Helena, those grapes are indigenous.
Winemaking has been in the Lomazzi family for four generations. But only with Dante, who came back to wine after a career in film and photography, has the family wine tradition found its current identity. For over a century now, former large, low grade production has shrunk and shrunk, whilst becoming progressively more and more precious, until it has reached its current micro levels. Today Dante farms just four hectares, which is an output of around 10,000 bottles a year, consisting of Malvasia Nera, Malvasia, Trebbiano, Canaiolo, Colorino and Sangiovese.
Colombaia means ‘dovecot’ and this is a distinguishing feature of the 16th century farmhouse whose estate sits 220 metres up on the Colle Val d’Elsa, on clay soil rich in entire fossils and just 60km from the sea. It is extraordinarily tranquil here – just a short drive from Cipo and and Antonio at Macea but temperamentally a whole world away from their family clatter and impulsive spirit. Here, from the first soaking of kefir grains in the morning kitchen, the governing spirit is contemplative.
According to biodynamics, which is the schooling Dante brought to the estate, Colombaia is not just a vineyard but an entire ecosystem of grapes, animals, vegetables and fruit all living in symbiosis with, and feeding into, each other. Dante doesn’t like to use their horses on the plough, because the claggy soil is too unkind on the hooves. But they’re there for a temperament they bring to the farm, and of course for natural fertiliser. Soil work is done on earth days, grapes are picked after the full-moon when the sugars are at their height and the wine is bottled when the moon drops, so – as Helena says – to catch it in the bottle.
Dante and Helena make a white, two reds (a vigna vecchia and a vigna nueva) and an ancestral method white and rose. Each year, the vinification adapts in respect to the vintage, and as ongoing iterative experimentation. However, some things are constants: spontaneous fermentation using indigenous yeasts, no fining, no filtering, no additives other than, occasionally, a tiny amount of sulphur at bottling.
Rosso Toscana is made from old vine Sangiovese, Colorino, Canaiolo and Malvasia Nera. Destemming, partial carbonic maceration, foot pressing, ageing in Slovenian oak. Each year, as the ratio of grapes change, so does the label – a synaesthetic representation of the vintage as a colour. [where does the young vine wine fit?]
Bianca Toscana, a blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia, is in fact an orange wine – made in truly micro quantities and a slow, slow drawing out of the possibilities of skin contact. Each year, the juice is left a little longer on the skins, in the most recent and very popular 2016 vintage, for around 3 months.
Vino Bianco and Rosato are respectively an ancestral method lightly sparkling white; and a rose – one single, natural fermentation in bottle, manual remuage and disgorgement with no added sulphites.